Impakt’s journey to uncover the barriers to entrepreneurship for Indigenous women
February of 2017, Impakt began an incredible journey. A journey that got us feeling inspired by so many of the incredible people we worked with and determined to make a big change in Canada. This journey started with a conversation between our CEO, Paul Klein, and Indian Business Corp’s (IBC) CEO, Rob Rollingson and a plan for a research paper. This plan developed into a larger project to start something monumentally big within Alberta and we are dedicated to bringing this plan to the rest of Canada.
Let me take you back to the beginning, before June 21st, National Indigenous Peoples Day (previously known as National Aboriginal Day), before we got National coverage on our work and before Indian Business Corp made a commitment to loaning money specifically to Indigenous women entrepreneurs, to that conversation between Paul Klein and Rob Rollingson. Through our previous work with IBC and Canada’s recent discussions on both entrepreneurship and Indigenous relations, Paul became curious, as he often does when something peaks his interest. Paul wanted to understand the gaps that exist for Indigenous women pursuing entrepreneurship. Rob was eager to learn more too and a partnership was formed. Through continued outreach Impakt managed to secure more funding for the research from Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). We were thrilled at Impakt as we always want to think big and the funding from IBC and BDC meant we could take this project to the limit! In our office of Toronto, we were excited to begin. Of course, we added our “Indigenous Women Entrepreneurship Project” to the wall of exciting things we are working on and rang our (literal) good news bell.
We began by finding out who we needed to talk to in order to better understand what it was like to be an Indigenous woman entrepreneur. We wanted the experiences of the women we interviewed to weave together to create a mosaic of the landscape. No two women have the same experience so we listened to the journeys of over 10 Indigenous women entrepreneurs. One of our most exciting interviews was with an Indigenous woman who born and raised in the beautiful Jasper National Park where she spent her childhood “barefoot out in the bushes.” This woman never had dreams of being an entrepreneur, she bounced around at a few jobs but knew she was meant to be outside and found it horrible working for someone else. Because of that she began giving tours of the outdoors and sharing her knowledge to tourists and people who were looking to complete outdoor qualifications. This woman makes sure to integrate Indigenous traditions and culture into the tours, focusing on spiritual knowledge, ecological knowledge and plant medicine. I distinctly remember my colleague, Olivia Larkin, leaving that interview completely in awe and absolutely blown away by this individual and the work she does. Even this woman who is doing incredible things as an entrepreneur and inspiring others to do the same had huge challenges she faced to get where she is today. (Learn more about her tours and business at http://www.mahikan.ca/)
Once we had listened to the journeys of the women and interviewed the other movers and shakers from the Indigenous women’s entrepreneurship space, we were left with a list of challenges. We wrote them down and drew connections between many of the challenges. We then uncovered the one challenge that was the biggest barrier to entrepreneurship for these women, lack of access to funding. There were many reasons these women couldn’t or were having unreasonable amounts of trouble get funding, they often don’t have property to use for collateral, they often don’t have access to capital for equity and they often don’t have credit. We knew we needed to change this. We could have easily just finished our research, washed our hands of the project and moved on. But we did not.
Paul, Olivia, Amir and I realized that this project was all we could talk about, with each other, our families, our pets, the innocent people we met at dinner parties… We could not stop discussing how determined these women are and the impact that entrepreneurship has on communities. For example, every dollar invested in Indigenous businesses through an Aboriginal Finance Institution results in an incredible $3.60 back into the Canadian economy! Isn’t that fantastic?! We regrouped and asked ourselves a crucial question:
What can we do to remove any barriers?
Our answer was to begin with a fund exclusively for Indigenous women entrepreneurs, a fund that caters to Indigenous women’s needs, provides them the money they need for the businesses and is run by Indigenous women.
With this project we wanted to go bigger than we’ve ever gone before, and we did. On June 21st IBC launched Canada’s first fund for Indigenous women entrepreneurs called “The Indigenous Women’s Loan Fund”. The logo for the fund, shown below, was designed by Megan Currie, the Creative Director of her own company called X-ing Design. (http://www.x-ingdesign.ca/) The fund aims to provide loans to 75 – 100 Indigenous women entrepreneurs in Alberta over the next 5 years. We learned that Indigenous women are natural entrepreneurs; they want the opportunity to pass down their traditions, cultures, crafts and work for themselves. We were honoured to be able to work on this project and have started to work on how we could bring the Indigenous women’s loan fund model to the rest of Canada. Because, well, there are incredible Indigenous women pursing entrepreneurship all across Canada, not just Alberta! We were also extremely excited to see that our work was covered by CBC, The Globe and Mail, Macleans Magazine, CTV News Alberta and the Edmonton Journal.
At Impakt when people ask us “why now?”
We say, “why not now?!”
Visit our Impakt in the Media page to check out some of our other work and our Recent Projects to read the Creating A New Narrative report. And if you just want to shoot us a note to hear more about the project or our other work please do by clicking Contact Us, we love hearing from people!